Once regarded as messengers from heaven, presaging longevity and good fortune, cranes appear in the ancient myth and legend of many cultures. Today, they evoke the retreating wilderness, the vanishing horizons of clean water, earth and air upon which their species - and ours too - depends for survival. In "The Birds of Heaven", Peter Matthiessen has woven his accounts of journeys undertaken over more than a decade in search of the fifteen remaining species of crane. From the scarcely populated Amur Valley in Siberia, he travels gradually west and south across Asia, through Australia, Africa and Europe (where the crane population has made a resurgence), ending up in the American Gulf Coast. He is joined by conservationists, scientists and enthusiasts of all nationalities, along with indigenous people - from Mongolian herdsmen to Aboriginals in Australia - whose fates are entwined with the cranes. Illustrated with colour plates by the renowned Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman, "The Birds of Heaven" captures the beauty of an endangered species and the dilemma of a planet in ecological crisis.
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Acclaimed writer Peter Matthiessen, a self-professed "craniac," has been observing and studying all kinds of birds most of his life, but his pursuit of cranes is closer to a spiritual quest than a naturalist's exercise. These majestic, mythic, and notoriously shy birds, capable of soaring at heights of 20,000 feet, are often fond of remote and rugged places, so just locating the birds can be difficult enough, determining an accurate number often impossible. Some locales, such as the breeding grounds on the Platte River in Nebraska, boast flocks half a million strong--"by far the greatest crane assemblies on earth"; other areas support only a precious few. Matthiessen's search for 15 different species of cranes has taken him to hidden corners of Siberia, China, Mongolia, Tibet, Sudan, and Australia (where Atherton cranes were not even discovered until 1961). Despite his many years of adventure and wide travels, each crane sighting is still a thrill for him, and his curiosity and contagious enthusiasm bring the book alive. But The Birds of Heaven also serves as an ecological warning: "Perhaps more than any other living creatures, they evoke the retreating wilderness, the vanishing horizons of clean water, earth, and air upon which their species--and ours, too, though we learn it very late--must ultimately depend for survival." --Shawn CarkonenAbout the Author:
Peter Matthiessen is a naturalist, explorer and writer. His works of fiction include At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Far Tortuga and the acclaimed 'Watson Trilogy'. His explorations have resulted in many fine works of non-fiction, among them The Snow Leopard, The Cloud Forest and The Tree where Man was Born.
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